Obama Administration Says It Talked With Muslim Brotherhood to Promote Small Business

Terence P. Jeffrey | April 23, 2012 | 12:51pm EDT
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Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats (AP Photo/Virginia Mayo)

(CNSNews.com) - The Obama administration says that it has talked with members of Egypt’s Muslim Brotherhood in order to promote small business.

The Muslim Brotherhood, which was banned in Egypt during the regime of former President Hosni Mubarak, leads the Freedom and Justice Party which, according to the Congressional Research Service, won 235 of the 498 seats (47 percent) in Egypt’s new People’s Assembly, which convened in January. The fundamentalist Islamist Alliance won another 125 seats (or 25 percent of the assembly).

In an online briefing for foreign reporters last week, Undersecretary of State Robert Hormats said that the State Department is trying to promote collaboration between small and medium-sized businesses in the United States and businesses overseas.

In this context, he said he had talked to members of the Muslim Brotherhood about promoting smaller enterprises. He said he would be having similar discussions this week with leaders from Middle Eastern and North African countries.

“America's a big economy with a number of big companies. We also have a lot of small and medium-sized companies. And we know in many parts of the world, there is an effort to support small and medium-sized enterprise,” said Hormats.

“Just one example: I’ve been spending a lot of time in the Middle East and North Africa in support of the kind of reforms that are now going on in that region,” said Hormats. “And one of the things that I have picked up by people throughout the region is their emphasis on support for small and medium-sized enterprises. American companies would like to buy from and collaborate with small and medium-sized enterprises in North Africa, the Middle East. I’ve had conversations in Egypt, with business people members of the Muslim Brotherhood; the same is true in Tunisia, and other parts of the world.

“So this is not an ideological issue. This is not a political issue,” said Hormats. “This is a practical issue of collaboration between the United States and companies around the world and governments around the world, all of whom want to create jobs, want to work together, and to improve the living standards of their citizens. American business is very supportive of this.

“The State Department is very supportive of American business and of cooperation between American business and businesses in other countries who want to create jobs, who want to innovate, and want to strengthen their global ties in a mutually constructive way,” said Hormats.

A reporter from the Arabic-language newspaper Al Sharq al-Awsat asked Hormats: “Post the Arab Spring, changing nations are struggling. What is the support that is taking place there?” In responding, Hormats said that the Obama administration is interested in supporting Middle Eastern countries "by helping them to deal with opportunities for strengthening small and medium sized enterprises"--mentioning, again, in this context, his meeting with members of the Muslim Brotherhood.

"The United States is strongly committed to supporting the economic and the political reforms that are going on in the region. Each country is in a somewhat different position. They're not all the same. They don't have the same approaches to change," Hormats responded. "But they do have many things in common: the emphasis on dignity, the emphasis on job creation, the emphasis on strengthening opportunity for their people to participate in the political process and participate to a far greater degree in the economic benefits of growth and giving them more opportunities.

"We have had very good conversations," said Hormats. "In fact, over the next few days, I plan to meet with representatives of all of the Middle East-North Africa countries, first in Paris next week, early next week, and then later in that week during the World Bank-IMF meetings. Ive been playing a very active role myself, as have my colleagues here in this building and throughout our government. Secretary Clinton regards this as a very high priority. And of course, President Obama regards this as very important. So we intend to support countries of the region by helping them deal with their financial situations, by helping them to deal with opportunities for strengthening small and medium sized enterprises.

"I mentioned representatives from the Muslim Brotherhood with whom I've had an opportunity to meet, have emphasized that point very substantially," said Hormats. "We agree with that, helping them to take advantage of new export opportunities, export facilitation. How do they take better advantage of generalized preferences, which many of them have? Or in some cases, some of have free trade agreements that we would like to see them be able to take more advantage of technical assistance, education assistance, a whole range of things."

In mid-January, Hormats joined Deputy Secretary of State William Burns on a U.S. delegation to Egypt that included talks with leaders of the Muslim Brotherhood.

According to a Jan. 26 report in Daily News Egypt, Hormats said he believed the Muslim Brotherhood leaders he spoke with were “very pragmatic."

The Daily News Egypt report said: "Hormats described the half-dozen Brotherhood officials he met with as 'very pragmatic. They understand; they're the majority party now in the parliament. They are going to be the primary political party in Egypt. They need to deliver results.' 'And their focus primarily is on small- and medium-enterprise' as generators of job creation, he said."

The Daily News Egypt, which described itself as the only English language daily in Egypt, published its last edition yesterday, Sunday, April 22, 2012.

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